TitleChange in the circumstances of Syria

Syria: The Other Side of the Coin

20 Apr 2012

■ Ali Mohtadi
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It is now about 14 months since the popular uprising and protests of the Syrian people. Yet, not only circumstances have remained the same, but they are even becoming further complicated. The media and politicians around the world have devoted a significant part of their news to Syria and global sanctions have practically created a tough situation for this country.

However, although official figures say that at least 10 thousand people have been killed in the conflicts in Syria, no solution is yet found to end this crisis. The strategic position of Syria and the important role it has played in recent decades in the Middle East has led to a kind of global and particularly regional attention to this country.

But what are the factors that have led to the continuation of this crisis in Syria and what do current circumstances and ongoing movements tell us about any future development? Why did Arab leaders who faced the protests of their people in the previous year fall down in a short span of time but the foundations of the Syrian state has not yet been seriously shaken?

Being caught off guard in the first step

As popular protests, and what was later called the Arab Spring, began in Tunisia, most of the influential Arab countries and traditional Arab leaders in Saudi Arabia and Egypt were somehow caught off guard. Nobody could imagine that Arab nations who were known for their indifference to the status quo suddenly could rise up against their despot leaders. The downfall of Zine El Abidine Ben Ali immediately activated think thanks in the West to avoid such unexpected events for these countries. The outcome immediately showed itself in Egypt where the process of the revolution of the youth in this country was intelligently guided such that practically after one year of the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak, the Egyptian youth were marginalised and nothing has changed in this country now. The power is still in the hands of the military and the Egyptian intelligence services. The Muslim Brotherhood which was assumed to be the last group to come to terms with the US gained the satisfaction of Americans in Turkey and reached power under the supervision of the army.

Developments of other Arab countries such as Libya, Bahrain and Yemen also demonstrated the point very clearly that the West knows exactly what it wants and in what way it intends to get that. In the invasion of NATO forces, the fate of Libya was practically left in the hands of the forces until now that Libya is moving in the direction of disintegration. Bahrain and Yemen were left to Saudi Arabia. In the former, they have deployed their military to the country and in the latter they took a practical initiative to save Ali Abdullah Saleh from people’s wrath and bring a government to power that does not deviate in any way from the regional policies of Saudi Arabia.

However, the case of Syria is entirely different and the massive media propaganda practically deprives people of looking at the other side of the coin. In Syria, like other Arab countries, the element of unexpectedness was removed from the equations so that all would wait for the start of popular protests. It was, nonetheless, from this point onwards that the situation changed quite contrary to what the West had anticipated.

In the beginning, there was this perception that the Egyptian scenario could be implemented in Syria too such that the Syrian opposition could gather in Turkey and come to a relative agreement and have an initial understanding between the West and the opposition. This was because the common borders of Syria with Israel and its old policies for supporting the Hezbollah and Hamas who were allies of Iran, were no issues to be easily neglected and leave the fate of the country in the hands of groups whose future policies were unknown.

 The downfall of Assad will paralyse Iran in the region and sever the strategic ties of Iran with Hezbollah disconnecting it from access to Israeli borders. Moreover, it would completely restrict the influence of Iran on Palestinian groups

The West and its regional allies were hoping that Assad would fall very quickly and by dominating Syria they could once for all remove the thorn which was called the “axis of resistance” by Iran from their side. But in practice this did not happen.

The role of Russia and China

At the dawn of the Arab Spring and as tensions began in Libya, Russia tried to come to an understanding with the West according to which they could have their shares in the oil-rich Libya in return for their refraining from using their veto right in the Security Council in the case o Libya. However, as Gaddafi fell it was practically the US and France who had exclusive access to Libya and Russia left the scene empty-handed. The disintegration and division of Sudan was the next step guided by the American leadership and administration and this was a warning sign for Russians to realise that they are on the verge of losing the powerful and critical axis of Africa and Arab countries. Sudan has one of the richest uranium mines and was among the richest African countries in oil reservoirs next to Libya.

It was from this point onwards that Russians took an extremely tough and impenetrable position in the case of Syria. During the past months, there is not a single week that American and European officials do not travel to Russia to obtain their agreement, but the Russian response has always been that they will not go back on their positions about Syria even for one inch.

Released information suggest that apart from an unconditional support for the Assad government in the Security Council, Russia is also equipping Syria with different weapons not to allow the government to be shaken and let the important military bases of Syria in the Tartus coastal city be put in jeopardy. Moreover, the fall of Syria practically puts the Middle East region in a completely new era in which Russians will certainly have no share.

However, China as one of the most important global economic powers is experiencing a new chapter in its foreign policy. According to an unwritten tradition in the past years in the Security Council, the Chinese never vetoed any resolution and they always abstained in decisions that they had disagreements over and simply relied on the negative vote of Russia.

China’s move in vetoing the resolution against Syria along with Russia sent a very clear message to the West that economically and politically China has now reached a point that it can bargain as a super power and claim to have shares in global issues.

Now, the West has to challenge two powerful rivals, none of whom compromised on the case of Syria, and they both know quite well that their first retreat in this case is not much different from their ultimate defeat.

The support of Iran

Next to Russia and China, Iran also plays an important role in Syria, which is not unknown to anyone. Iranian leaders have now set aside all ambiguous talks and now explicitly admit that they shall use any means possible to keep Bashar Assad in power. The downfall of Assad will paralyse Iran in the region and sever the strategic ties of Iran with Hezbollah disconnecting it from access to Israeli borders. Moreover, it would completely restrict the influence of Iran on Palestinian groups.

It is quite natural that Iran would take any measures to keep the Syrian regime intact using any means such as sending weapons, money and dispatching IRGC commanders to Syria. In global equations which is defined as per the interests of countries, Syria is a powerful bulwark for Iran and one can safely say that the foundations of the foreign policy of Iran is based in Syria and on the role of Syria.

Iran has managed to gain the support of Iraq in this case too and warn them of the horrible fate they may have in case Syria falls and thus turned Iraq into the first Arab country that stands next to Iran, Russia and China in support of the Syrian regime.

Change in the circumstances of Syria

At least during the last month, some changes have taken place in Syria that the media has ignored. Qatar which had depicted an image of one of the most important political players in the region has practically stopped all of its news programmes and covers the Syrian situation on a daily basis and this is what it had not done in the case of any other Arab country.

This much world propaganda next to the gruesome images of the violence in Syria has practically caused the other side of the coin not to be seen. It is not possible for opposition groups in Syria particularly the National Liberation Army, as the military arm of the opposition, to have remained deprived of the money and weapons provided by Arab countries led by Qatar and Saudi Arabia.

Here, the Syrian government claims that those against Assad are armed and supported for foreign forces seem to be true. Some of the developments in Lebanon and Iraq, particularly clashes which have broken out in the north of Lebanon followed by the deployment of the Syrian army to Lebanon under the pretext of pursuing the opposition were among the signs that the sources of funding and arming of the Syrian opposition are known for the Syrian government.

Unconfirmed reports in Arab circles also suggest that the Syrian government has discovered that many of the foreign officers present in Hums were indeed organising the opposition forces. That is why the city of Hums, and particularly the Baba Amr region, became a strategic and vital point witnessing intense clashes. Bashar Assad’s visit of the Baba Amr region, as the Syrian President who had not appeared in the public for a very long time, and the government statement followed by it claiming that “riots” have ended, clearly show the strategic importance of this area.

Kofi Anan and the retreat of the West

The developments covered above made the Syrian situation a complicated one which could not be any longer resolved by threats. In this stage, Kofi Anan’s mission as the UN representative to solve the Syrian crisis suggests more than anything else the retreat of the West from its prior positions trying to find a middle-way solution, even though this solution is not found yet.

Kofi Anan is known for having close ties with the Americans and is one of the credible global figures who would never allow his reputation be wasted on stalling. In fact, when Kofi Anan accepts to intervene in the case of Syria, it is an indication that there are some things going on behind the scenes suggesting a mutual compromise by both sides and glimpses of hope for the – even though temporary – resolution of the situation.


Although thousands of killed people and a truly critical situation is the outcome of 14 months of clashes in Syria, there are indications that suggest Western countries have not found a way for the overthrow of Bashar Assad and the Syrian opposition is not strong enough to topple the Assad regime. The West and the Saudi Arabia, along with their regional allies, cannot give in to this strategic defeat in the region and give concessions to Russian, China and Iran because after all these efforts, if Assad remains in power, it would mean that the West has completely lost its grip on the issues of the Middle East.

Six years ago, in the midst of the Israeli war with Hezbollah, the then US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice made some historic remarks and spoke of the birth of a “New Middle East”. It is quite inconceivable and unreasonable that this scheme might have been shelved. Now and after the relative defeat of the West in Syria under circumstances that there is every indication that Assad will remain in power, all gazes are upon Iran and threats against Tehran are on the rise. Military strike against Iran is the third attempt to break the axis which has been bothering the West and its allies for decades. The war against the Hezbollah was a practical failure; because the Hezbollah was not ‘eliminated’ contrary to the promises of the US and Israel. Battle against the Syrian regime is on the verge of defeat and now the third link of this chain must be tested. This attempts begins with a complete separation of the Hamas from Iran and Syria with Iran losing one of its most important regional arms.

Tehran Review
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